GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Throughout the years, officials in West Michigan have started to see an increase in the need for interpreters in the field.
The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan has a Language Services Department that works with a number of different departments in Kent County to provide interpreters.
“We have seen first-hand how the lack of interpretation can be a huge problem. It’s extremely important to have access to an interpreter in different situations,” said Sara Proano, the manager for the Language Services Department.
One of the most important situations is in an emergency.
“Those first hours are so sensitive. It’s important to have access to someone who understands the context, is culturally appropriate and can render the message accurately to both sides,” said Proano.
The Walker Police Department recently experienced an issue with a language barrier in the homicide case of Yolanda Reyes. Reyes was a mother of four who went missing in the latter part of April. Her body was found at a construction site near where she went missing in May.
“All very serious cases like this are challenging, but the language barrier of course adds another element to that challenge,” said Greg Long, the Deputy Chief of the department.
Without a bilingual officer, the department was behind in their investigation.
“It certainly delayed our process. It certainly added another challenge to it with the ability to start our investigation, start talking to people. Once you start rolling on an investigation, typically it continues to snowball from there, but it did slow down our ability,” said Long.
The police department reached out to a neighboring agency for an officer to assist them which can be a longer process.
“When it’s going to be a prolonged event such as our current investigation then it takes a little bit of time to get everyone in place, get the approval from that agency’s administration and then work in conjunction with ours,” Long told 24 Hour News 8.
The Walker community has a five percent Hispanic population and therefore, the issue is not as common for them.
“It’s more of a transient need when we have people come to visit the city. We normally see an increase in need at that time,” said Long.
However, at the recruitment level, Long said the department is always looking for Spanish-speaking officers.
Officials at the Hispanic Center believe the problem is broader in the community.
“I have a lot of people that don’t think the Hispanic, Latino population is that big in Grand Rapids. The fact that you don’t see them doesn’t mean that they’re not here,” said Proano.
The Hispanic Center hopes to expand their services in the future to provide over the phone interpretation services.
“That’s where we want to grow. We still want to be able to offer services over the phone and FaceTime and other ways in the community so that people always have direct access,” said Proano.
The center is currently providing a course for people who want to become interpreters to help fill the need in the community.
The Grand Rapids Police Department has 20 bilingual officers and two interns who are fluent in Spanish for emergency situations. The department also works with AT & T’s Language line which offers hundreds of different languages for their use.
The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan also has a working relationship with the department and provides interpreters when needed.